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A one-sided conversation about reform

A one-sided conversation about reform

I continue to be dismayed by the manner in which Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, formerly Bishop of Lexington, and now chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, are pursuing their efforts to reform the structures of the church. Bishop Sauls has proposed legislation requesting that a special committee be created to devise resolutions regarding the restructuring of the church, and that this committee’s recommendations then be debated at a special General Convention to be held before the date of the next regularly scheduled General Convention in 2015.

Part of my concern is a matter of process. Bishop Sauls went directly to the House of Bishops when they met in Quito, Ecuador with his presentation and proposal without the endorsement of the General Convention-created Budgetary Funding Task Force of which he had been a member before becoming COO. Presumably his colleagues on that task force worked under the impression that they were pursuing a common goal, and it seems to me disrespectful that Bishop Sauls instead pulled rank, abandoned their collective work, and went straight to one of the two houses of General Convention to seek approval of his ideas.

It was equally disrespectful, and in any secular setting would have been regarded as a serious problem, for the chief operating officer of an organization to make a presentation calling for the restructuring of the organization to one interest group within the organization (the bishops) without even alerting the board of directors of the organization (the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church) that he intended to make such a presentation.

Nor is it encouraging to learn that while Bishop Sauls said his proposal was not meant to be “a bishop-centric thing” and that he hoped to encourage a wide ranging conversation, many of the dioceses that have passed the sample resolution he handed out at the House of Bishops meeting have done so without much in the way of discussion. Indeed, in at least one diocese, the resolution was on the consent calendar.

At this point, it seems reasonable to argue that Bishop Sauls’ resolution is being advanced in ways that illustrate his intention to diminish the General Convention and the Executive Council, and establish 815 Second Avenue as the center of authority in the Episcopal Church. An examination of the Power Point proposal with which he supports this proposal reinforces this impression. It focuses primarily on the money that could be saved by lengthening the duration between General Conventions, and how much more nimble the church would be if Executive Council would surrender its fiduciary responsibilities.

Nevertheless, despite its unorthodox rollout, Bishop Sauls’ proposal may be reasonable and worthy of full consideration. It is, I suggest, a little peculiar to allow someone whose salary is now paid from the General Convention budget to conduct a campaign on paid time to diminish the influence of the Convention without the Convention’s approval. But I am happy to discuss his proposals on its merits, along with other competing proposals. (Full disclosure: Bonnie Anderson, the President of the House of Deputies, is one of the leaders who has other ideas about restructuring, and she is a client of my communications firm.)

The problem is that neither the Presiding Bishop nor the chief operating officer seem willing to have Bishop Sauls’ proposal discussed in this fashion. Instead, they are using the financial resources of the church to mount a campaign—videos, speaking engagements, etc.—on behalf of one particular piece of legislation. This is manifestly not an attempt to examine issues, kick off a conversation or any of the other euphemisms that have been used to describe their efforts. The two bishops are attempting to win the vote for their legislation by controlling the flow of information.

This isn’t helpful, it isn’t the way things should work in a democratic polity, and, by throwing those with competing ideas onto the defensive, it is impeding the vital conversation that the church needs to have about its future.

We are going to continue to attempt to have that conversation here on the Cafe, but it seemed necessary to point out the atmosphere in which this conversation is taking place.


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Nathaniel Pierce

One need look no further than the first “Resolved” clause to understand the perspective and ideology of the author of the resolution on restructuring. Since when can any diocese “direct” the Secretary of General Convention to do anything? This is ludicrous on the face of it. Compare the wording in the first “Resolved” clause to Rule 22 of the Rules of Order of the House of Deputies. Rule 22 specifies the appropriate format for a resolution from a Diocese. Rule 22 was written and adopted by people who understand the polity of the Episcopal Church.

Nathaniel Pierce

Trappe, MD

Jamie McMahon

Jim, I appreciate your clarification of the purpose and content types of The Lead. Thank you.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Jim Naughton has adequately identified his professional dealings with Bonnie Anderson. His analysis strikes me as excellent and raises important questions about what happens when a Presiding Bishop and a chief operating officer try to impose their own model of the denomination in defiance of the House of Deputies and the General Convention.

Gary Paul Gilbert


What I find interesting is that the church does not appear to have ever surveyed to understand what people want. Not just sending around messages asking what folks think, but a formal process in which the church measures present state, identifies desired future state, and maps out a path forward, while stablishing measurement criteria.

Of course, a church is much more than the results of polling, but I think folks would find interesting perceptions about what we do well, what we don’t do well, and more. All too often, folks say, “I know what we need–I’ve been around for a while.” But one’s view is skewed by one’s life experiences, and it’s very hard without some empirical basis to avoid, “Shoot, ready, aim.”

Eric Bonetti

Jim Naughton

Jamie, thanks for your question about the nature of The Lead. Sometimes the items are newsy. Sometimes they are opinion. Sometimes they are a blend. The Lead is more like an Episcopal news and opinion magazine than an Episcopal newspaper.

There are pretty common standards in the journalistic world for commenting on issues in which one is involved. One discloses one’s involvement, says what one wants, and lets readers determine how much credence they want to give to what you’ve had to say. That is what I have done.

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